INDIANAPOLIS - A southeast Indianapolis mother who planted a recorder in her baby’s car seat to document suspected abuse said she was trying to protect her son.
The 26-year-old called police over the weekend when she noticed bruises and bloodshot eyes when her 7-month-old son returned home from a visit with his father in Avon.
She told police she had always suspected the baby was being abused on those visits, so she admitted to officers that she concealed a recording device in her son’s safety seat as she was turning the child over for court-ordered visitation.
Tuesday, she told Call 6 Investigators she knew that planting the device might not even be legal.
“I told the officer I’m willing to go to jail to protect my son,” she said while holding her son on her lap. “I will do anything to protect my child. I don’t think I did anything wrong,” she said.
When IMPD officers were called to her home over the weekend, one officer listened to the recording made while the baby was visiting his father.
In his official report, the officer noted intense screaming was contained on the recording.
“Officers listened and found it was not normal crying,” the officer wrote.
Department of Child Services was notified, along with IMPD child abuse detectives, who called for paramedics to take the boy to Riley Hospital for Children.
The baby was treated and released and was home with the mother Tuesday.
As the mother was speaking with Call 6 Investigators, no bruising was visible on the child and he was smiling and moving while making various excited noises.
“My job as a parent is to protect my son,” said the mother, who requested anonymity.
Officers noted a bruise on the child’s head, along with another bruise on his forehead above his left eye. The mother told police he typically returned from court-ordered visitation with his father with different behaviors.
She said he was usually happy and energetic, but returned home with a much different demeanor.
The mother said she is locked in a lengthy and bitter court fight with the father over custody of the child.
No charges have been filed against the father, and legal scholars contacted by Call 6 Investigators said the mother was unlikely to face criminal charges for recording the suspected abuse.
Federal and state wiretap laws require a person to be present (or in legal terms, a “party”) when a secret recording is being made.
Dr. Shawn Marie Boyne, Associate Professor of Law at Indiana University, said, “If she isn’t there, she can’t be a party. She would argue that she is acting on behalf of the minor.”
Boyne said the recording could be admissible in a criminal case as an "excited utterance" but she pointed out that it likely wouldn’t provide enough evidence to support filing charges on its own. She said a judge could also rule the tape inadmissible since any recording has to be proven to be accurate and authentic, which would be difficult in this case.
Boyne said that abuse claims are extremely common in cases where couples are fighting in court over custody of a child.
In an e-mail, Dr. Boyne said the father of the child may be able to sue the mother for invasion of privacy in civil court, and it could also anger the judge who is presiding over the child custody dispute.
The mother in this case told Call 6 Investigators that, despite the criminal investigation and the recording, she is required by court order to hand the child back over to the father for his next weekend visit.
She said she plans to disregard that order and keep the baby away from the dad.
“I think my son’s safety trumps any court order,” she said.